This section is from the book "The Beverages of the Chinese; Kung-fu or Tauist Medical Gymnastics; the Population of China; A Modern Chinese Anatomist and A Chapter in Chinese Surgery.", by John Dudgeon. Also available from Amazon: Kung Fu, or Taoist Medical Gymnastics.
The sanitary and wholesome effects of tea upon the system cannot in truth be overlooked or disregarded. Much of the quiet life and domestic habits of the Chinese are to be traced to this beverage. The very weak infusion, which they drink, allows them to spend all the time they choose at the tea tables. What a change from thrift, quiet, and industry, to misery, poverty, quarrels, and sickness, would not obtain, if spirit drinking took the place of the sipping of this national beverage. There is no doubt whatever that the general temperance of the Chinese is largely owing to the extensive use of tea. It is making similar way in the West; and, if more largely used in the establishment of workmen's restaurants, with good, cheap, and not too strong tea after the Chinese style, would be a most likely means to restrict the unfortunately too large consumption of alcoholic liquors. Tea rooms for the upper classes in some of our large cities are now much frequented in the afternoons by customers, many of whom previously found their way to the public houses. My friend Mr. Cranston of Glasgow has probably done more than any other tea dealer in the United Kingdom to provide a pure tea, infused on scientific principles, and to have provided tea saloons for ladies and gentlemen; and his efforts have been rewarded by an ever increasing amount of patronage. He has also done much in having a chemical analysis made of the various teas by an analytical expert, the late Professor Dittmar, showing the amount of theine and tannic acid in the different samples, and has done much to keep the excellence of the China tea, ill its richness in theine, before the public. Cheap tea saloons on the Chinese plan are a desideratum among the forces that make for temperance, industry, thrift, and health, among our drink-sodden lower classes. Would that Mr. Cranston would direct his energies towards supplying this desideratum, and so remove the reproach that is attached to that city. Tea is certainly one of the greatest benefits these Oriental peoples possess, and its universal use among the Mongolian race for a thousand and more years proves the efficiency of its properties as a nervine, a stimulant, and a beverage. One has only to visit any large Chinese city, to observe the value of tea as "a harmonizer and satisfier of their wants and passions." Besides tea, as an important factor in keeping the Chinese a temperate people, other considerations relating to the nature and mode of drinking their wines and spirits will be adduced further on, with the same object.
We have thus very briefly discussed the great drink of the Chinese, "the cup that cheers, but not inebriates." It is pat excellence the beverage of this people, and is constantly presented on receiving visits, making purchases, transacting business, and at all ceremonies. It is offered at all hours, and diunk at all times. It is invariably offered on entering a Chinese house. The cup with its cover, containing newly infused tea, is placed before each guest. The request to take more is generally construed as a polite hint that the interview should terminate. The same etiquette rules with regard to wine, when it is offered. Not to present tea thus would be to disregard the usages of polite society, and to be destitute of good manners. It is to be feared that foreigners often offend unconsiously the Chinese, by not offering tea except the visit should happen to be at the foreign tea time. A closer observance of the Chinese style, in the matter of presenting tea in receiving visits, would favourably dispose this people towards foreigners, or at least prove that they understood the rules of good breeding and hospitality, and are in reality not baibarians as they are so frequently and contemptuously designated.
Another very common drink among this people is simple hot water. This makes a very good drink, provided the water be hot enough. It is very cooling and satisfying, washes out the stomach, forms a good solvent for the food, and seems in a variety of ways to act most beneficially, whether taken the first thing in the morning or before or after meals. I have known it, used in this way, to act beneficially on rheumatism, indigestion, constipation, and other ailments. It certainly possesses curative powers in many stomachic, hepatic, and renal affections, and might be adopted with profit in the West. We are glad to learn that it is coming into more general use. It is death to all parasites or ova, or other germs of disease, that may be introduced into the system through water. Cold water is very rarely drunk by Chinese. Hence their carelessness, in too many cases, in regard to the source of their water supply, whether from rivers or wells containing sewage contamination, or suspiciously near foul drains. It would be a safe rule in the West to boil fluids like water and milk where epidemics are supposed to depend for their rise, continuance, and spread, on the water and milk supply. It is for this reason that the Chinese enjoy such an immunity from zymotic diseases, to which they are not entitled, considering their insanitary environments which set all our Western ideas of sanitation at defiance. In summer, cold tea and cold boiled water are extensively drunk.
Among summer drinks there is the swan-met-tang a decoction of a certain kind of green plum obtained from the south, which is taken during the hot months with ice as a cooling pleasant drink. It is sold everywhere on the streets. The plum is mixed with sugar and made into a dry paste, and so sold in the dry fruit shops. It is also mixed with some kwei-hwa the flowers of the osmanthus fragrans of Loureiro.
All the year through, apricot tea or gruel is sold on the streets, a drink made of sweet and bitter apricot kernels. White rice, with water and sugar, are pounded together along with the apricot kernels; water is boiled, and this paste is added until a proper consistence is reached.
Another summer dish, used extensively among the Manchus and Eunuchs, is lau. It is made of boiled milk, to which sugar and sour yellow wine are added, which causes the milk to coagulate. Sometimes wheaten starch, or starch prepared from the lotus, alias arrow-root, are added, to give greater consistence to it. Except in North China, milk is not a dietetic article; and, even there, to a very small extent, except in the form of curd just noted. The casein in their diet is supplied by bean curd. It may not be uninteresting to add here that, in some Chinese towns in the South, women's milk is sold on the streets for motherless infants, or octogenarians in second childhood, or where a milk diet is prescribed. As this substance nourished the vital powers in infancy and childhood, so the Chinese argue regarding its virtues in later life. The upper classes, in circumstances requiring milk, hire wet-nurses. The present Empress Dowager, when at the change of life, about ten years ago, had such a wet-nurse, the wife of a patient then in our hospital, and I am told still continues the practice.